Tag Archive for 'ken whitmire'

Tone Control – Focusing Your Light

The Forest Pool - In this split, we see the base toneapped merge and the final edited burns, dodges and detail work side by side. Not all images are this extreme, but tone control used well will always give your image that finishing touch.

by: Gavin Seim. Tone mapping and image processing without tone control is like having a lens without focus. It’s nothing new. Good shadows & contrast make an image. Without them we often get what I call the Flickr HDR. And trust me, you don’t want that ;)

Leveraging tone to keep the subject the subject and the supporting cast, supporting, is critical. Good tone control is what separates the men from the boys in the world of imaging and we can’t talk about it too much. I think we sometimes get distracted with the latest techniques. But generally they’re not really that new. They’re just new ways of doing things people have done on film for decades. Take HDR. On film, every image you made was HDR if you managed your light and processing well.

So then HDR. It’s not a style and it’s not judged on how many images you use, or whether you tonemap in Photomatix or Nik. It’s simply the management of a high range of light. You can do that with film, layers, tonemapping, channel mixing, brushes or in the camera.

In this example of a three exposure tone mapped image, you can see how much work I had to do to reign in the tone values. A tonemapped merge shows this more than a single file would. It tends to push everything to mid tones. After which, those tones have to be managed. Either that or you have mid-tone chaos. This is one reason I often manage dynamic range manually with layers, rather than tonemapping, but both are fine as long as you have a plan.

What I’m getting at is that an image must have a subject. Just one. Everything else needs to support that and it doesn’t matter if you have a single RAW or a tonemappped HDR with loads of range. Tonal control helps the eye focus. Without that focus you’ll nearly always have an image failure.

I’ve studied tone for years now with the legendary Ken Whitmire and even more on my own. It’s taught me to see light. Not simply that there is light. But what it’s doing for me. I see a lot of potentially great images that fail without any tone control. It generally means no cohesive subject. No one is talking much about tone. But if you do it right, the viewers eye is lead right to the subject, every time, no matter how many elements are in the scene.

Using the Zone System really helps with this as it quickly teaches you to manage tones better and make things as good as they can be in camera. See this article. On the editing side often a burn & dodge, brushes, or layering of lighter and darker frames makes the diffence. The bottom line is that while there is no rule on how we control tone, it must be done if we want a focused image that draws the viewers eye and showcases our subject.

This is something I go into at great length in my Lights & Shadows workshop and my EXposed DVD. But the main thing is to keep working with it. Cameras, the latest software and the latest techniques are useful things to study. But tone control is timeless and is never superseded. Without it we can expect our images to fail or to be little more than snapshots. Every time.

Happy tones… Gavin Seim

King of the Valley - Valley of the gods Utah, Spring 2012. A gentle tone controlled single exposure. See more of Gavin's American Pictorials on f164.com

Video. Master Portraitist Ken Whitmire – On Photography

by Gavin Seim: I worked with Ken recently on a promo video for his Wall Portrait Conference (incredible workshop by the way).

So after the clips for the promo, ken just say down and chatted on various topics I promoted him on. I’ve pretty much removed myself from this and what remains is about 17 minutes of gold, as this renown portrait photographer talks about out craft and how he see’s it.

Ken’s really neat guy with more photographic awards that you want to count. But he’s always eager to learn new things and share ideas. It’s really cool. You can also view the HD version YT.

The Huge List of Awesome Quotes from Renowned Photographers & Artists.

by Gavin Seim: Anyone can learn to use a camera to capture snapshots of time. That’s valuable for history and for precious memories. But it takes more to be a skilled photographer. Not just a picture taker, but a picture maker.

It takes tireless study, practice and long experience. I contend it’s no easier than being a sculptor or a doctor. A lawyer, or a painter. It requires being a skilled technician, a craftsman and a creative director. It’s neither fast or easy. But it’s one of the most rewarding skills one can study and master.

But that’s just my opinion. So I’ve scoured websites, videos, books and even picked up the phone for thoughts about photography from many of the renowned masters of it’s history. Thoughts that seem resound it’s ever alluring call. Reminding us to return to the basics of what makes a great photograph and perhaps to remember, that digital is just a baby next to more than a hundred fifty years of photographic history… Gav


  • “The whole key lies very specifically in seeing it in the minds eye which we call visualization” – Ansel Adams
  • “If continually people look and look and always come away enriched, then it’s a great work” – Sister Wendy.
  • “If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography.” – Edward Weston
  • “The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.” – Ansel Adams
  • “Tone” may be the least understood, and least utilized factor in composing and finishing images” –  Ken Whitmire
  • “A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” – Edward Steichen
  • “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams
  • “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” – Paul Caponigro
  • “Becoming a professional artist takes talent and perseverance, even more so when the field is photography.” – Clyde Butcher
  • “Never put lettering in your photos unless you want it read.” – Jay Meisel
  • “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” – Ansel Adams
  • “In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.” – August Sander
  • “If you have enough craft, you’ve done your homework and you’re practiced. You can then make the photograph you desire.” – Ansel Adams
  • “No place is boring, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film. – Robert Adams
  • “A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.” – Ansel Adams
  • “Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand.” – Margaret Bourke-White
  • “We have glorified the camera itself. Which is only a tool.” Ken Whitmire
  • “Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.” – Ken Rockwell
  • “There are two people in every photograph: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams
  • “A sloppy performance in a photograph is as distressing as a sloppy performance in music.” – Fred Picker
  • “Be aware of every square millimeter of your frame.” – Jay Meisel
  • “We are basically directors of images. Our objective is to attract the eye and leave an impression the mind.” – Ken Whitmire
  • “There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams
  • “No photographer is as good as the simplest camera. – Edward Steichen
  • “A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.” – Arnold Newman

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